Ambareesh’s last interview was for a book on actor

With his characteristic humility and friendliness, the actor-politician left a lasting impression on the author

M N Dipak Nambiar

When Dipak Nambiar conveyed his interest to interview ‘Rebel Star’ Ambareesh for a book, he was told that the actor was occupied with political and philanthropic activities.

Not the one to give up so easily, the author contacted someone who knew Mrs Sumalatha and was soon informed that he must call the Ambareesh household for an appointment with the great man.

“I tried telling the assistant who answered the phone in broken Kannada that I’m an author from Chennai. When I used the name ‘Nambiar’ several times, he understood and handed the phone to Mrs Sumalatha,” Dipak Nambiar, grandson of famous Tamil villain and character actor MN Nambiar, told us by phone.

Having secured the appointment, Dipak drove from Chennai with apprehension. “I did my engineering in Bangalore and can manage a little Kannada, but it’s far from being chaste,” he said. “So I was worried how the interview with the great man referred as the son of Mandya would turn out to be.”

The ‘Rebel Star’, however, surprised Dipak by greeting him in Tamil.

He was such a cool person, so down-to-earth. He had such great memories of my grandfather dating back to the seventies,” Dipak reminisced.

Little did Dipak know that he would be the last person to interview the great man before he passed away last November. Dipak Nambiar’s book, “Nambiarswami: The Good, The Bad And the Holy, published by Harper Collins, was out on March 7.

Besides describing the life and illustrious film career of Nambiar, the quintessential evil man on the silver screen but a pious and upright man in real life, Dipak’s book talks about how the legendary actor initiated several south Indian film stars, including Ambareesh, Dr Rajkumar, Vishnuvardhan, Shivram among others, into the Sabarimala pilgrimage.

“Several of his contemporaries agreed to speak to me for the book,”

Dipak said. “Shivanna (Shivrajkumar), for instance, spoke very warmly of ‘Appa’ (Nambiar). Their family treated Appa like their own ‘Periappa’ (uncle). I saw Appa’s large portrait near his puja room.”

The swelling number of Kannada actors on Nambiar’s Sabarimala pilgrimage made the ‘Mahaguruswamy’ reserve one of the four buses bound for the hill shrine –“Bus B, I think”- for them.

“Appa enjoyed a very warm relationship with Dr Rajkumar,” Dipak recalled. “You could sense the closeness between the two legends, something Shivanna spoke at great length (when interviewed for the book).”

“Dr Rajkumar wasn’t a man of many words, but when he was with Appa in the room, the bond between the film stars was quite evident. They had mutual respect and years of going to the Mala made the bond even stronger.”

In the book, Ambareesh recalled the earliest experience of travelling to Sabarimala with fellow Kannada actors in Nambiarswami’s group. He told Dipak how he once had to light up a cigarette (during the pilgrimage) to perform his morning ablutions and how he disappeared watching Dr Rajkumar and Nambiar, who disapproved the habit during pilgrimage, walking in his direction and left the Kannada villain actor Vajramuni to take the rap.

“It was a long and detailed interview,” Dipak said. “When I was about to leave, Ambareesh threw one more surprise by asking me if I could stay back to have some snacks with him. He told me about the shooting of his latest movie Kurukshetra (which turned out to be his last). Mrs Sumalatha was also so caring. When I heard of his passing, I thought we’d lost a great person.”

Nambiar, in fact, used Sabarimala pilgrimage to unite the south Indian film industry. “He was certainly a unifying figure. It’s not just south Indian film industry, but even people like Amitabh Bachchan, Rishi Kapoor and other Bollywood stars joined Nambiar’s pilgrimage,” Dipak said.

Despite his closeness to the legendary actor and former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M G Ramachandran, Nambiar was never obsequious or sought favours from him. With MGR and Sivaji Ganesan, he formed the great triumvirate of the Tamil film industry that ruled the box office for several decades.

‘While many on-screen heroes are villains in real life, here was the man, who secretly relished the way theatre going audience reviled his film characters, actually lived a saintly life,’ was a sentiment expressed by several of his contemporaries.

“I began writing this book in 2004,” Dipak said. “I had just graduated from the b-school and was wondering whether to study technology and get a job. I thought why not write a kind of recollection. I wanted to show Amma and Appa (who were alive back then) that these were the stories I grew up listening to. A few pages became many pages.”

The book gained momentum in 2015, when Dipak met with a near fatal accident. “That’s when it occurred to me that there’s more to life than just being a techie in the US, making money or paying your own EMIs. I wanted to pay tribute to a man who raised me like his own son.”

The 49-year-old author has just finished penning his second book, a memoir in four parts talking about how the Americans are getting wiser in handling the abuse of H1 visas, being stuck in a bad marriage, recovering from a horrible accident and raising a son with special needs as a single parent.

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